9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL AT THE NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE, BIRMINGHAM
Theatre Run: Monday 17 December 2012 - Saturday 5 January 2013
Performance Viewed: Wednesday 19 December (Gala Press Night)
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
9 to 5 The Musical is something of a double dose of musical ‘jukeboxing’, being both based on the existing 1980 comedy film of the same name and also taking its soundtrack mostly from the queen of country’s two most recent LP’s Backwoods Barbie and Better Day. Throw in it being derived from an original Broadway production, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the show had an uphill climb to bring anything original or fresh to audiences. Following the exploits of three female co-workers in the male-dominated playground of the late 1970’s workplace where bigotry and sexism remained the de facto norm, rampant and unchecked, mostly at the hands of their womanising, cheating scoundrel of a boss, and you also have a safe bet of knowing how the story is going to play out (and chances are you’ll be right).
Yet for as safe as 9 to 5 plays it, and derivative as it may be, there is an enormous swathe of fun, vibrance and irrepressible charm on display here to make it an instant recommendation. This is not a show aiming for the lofty heights of Schonberg or Sondheim, but rather a jolly (dolly) jaunt and supremely entertaining explosion of camp, colour and country with more than a dash of feel-good, and even manages to throw in a surprise or two, usually courtesy of the terrific cast and company. It may not be as soulful and knowing as Sister Act or have the wry wit and self-parody of Legally Blonde, but it is just as enjoyable and uplifting an experience, which frankly is what the majority of people going to see the show will be hoping for.
Jackie Clune brings a world-weary, sardonic authority to the role of Violet, earthy and grounded, even in her big cabaret-esque number ‘One of the Boys’ where there is an authenticity and restraint to her performance ideal for the role of a woman who feels life, and promotions, may be passing her by beyond her control. With two slightly showier co-stars, Clune grounds the production and some of its drier humour perfectly throughout. Natalie Casey brings a quirky, oddball charm to the role of Judy, newcomer to the office and recent divorcee (he cheated with his secretary, of course). She gets plenty of opportunity to showcase some great comic timing and instincts, particularly with her trademark deadpan delivery, which occasionally devolves into frustrated rage with hilarious effect. And whilst in Act I the character and Casey’s performance seems to threaten to flatline and become a little one-note, she benefits from a much stronger second act where the character gets some meaningful development and Casey displays great range and vocals with a moving ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ solo. Amy Lennox is a particular delight in the ‘Dolly’ role of Doralee Rhodes, perfectly capturing the essence and spirit (not to mention accent) of the Tennessee superstar whilst imbibing the character with an innocence, warmth yet sass all of her own. She gives in many ways the strongest and most confident performance of the three leads, with both the song and delivery of ‘Backwood’s Barbie’ being one of the shows most effective and purposeful musical sequences.
Ben Richards does an excellent job of making more from less with the shows central figure-of-hate, Franklyn J Hart, and whilst the core role is almost pantomime in it’s degree of villainy and one-dimensionality, Richards gives a fire, edge and physicality to the character that almost makes his despicable ways borderline forgivable. Almost. He also knocks his vocals and one or two brilliantly choreographed dance numbers (a particular highlight being in a hilarious fantasy of Bonnie Langford’s Roz) out the park with ease. The aforementioned Ms Langford is also something of a revelation here, effortlessly scene-stealing and high-kicking her way through proceedings as Hart’s adoring administrative assistant. Whilst this touring production robs the character of much of its irony from the original incarnation of Roz, Langford shows practically everyone how it’s done and brings her impressive back catalogue and experience to the fore, looking and sounding all the more terrific for it.
The show moves at a brisk pace, with frequent set changes that help maintain an energy and momentum to proceedings. Much of the production design is relatively flat, grounded and perfunctory, with painted backdrops and little invention in regards to physical staging and theatrical mise-en-scene, though the occasional omniscient narration from a videoed Dolly Parton is a neat touch and is a welcome addition to have her contributing to the show, particularly in using her to initiate both acts with in her own inimitable fashion.
As a jukebox production, the implementation of Dolly tracks both new and old is for the most part successful. Moments such as ‘Backwoods Barbie’, ‘Shine Like the Sun’ and of course the titular hit fit perfectly to the tale being told, and most of the new additions may be a little obvious and overt (‘Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot) but are upbeat, fun numbers. There are occasions where some of the numbers feel a little shoehorned, in particular ‘Let Love Grow’ fueling a relatively unnecessary and underwritten romantic subplot featuring Violet and one of her colleagues. Similarly, there are several occasions where the show comes grinding to a halt for character rumination where the music seems to be more about elaborating upon character rather than advancing the story, which is not necessarily a detriment, but does give something of a stop-start feel to the first act in particular where it’s difficult to not feel like the show is stopping to include the music as opposed to being a production which is reliant upon it.
Ultimately, the feel-good factor has always been one of musical theatres biggest raison d’etres, and it is something 9 to 5 has in plenty. It occasionally creaks and groans under its roots and jukebox nature, but is bolstered by an up-tempo, jovial soundtrack, some universal truths and humour, an excellent cast giving it their all with pizzaz and verve, and an overall joy and positivity that is incredibly hard to not get won over by and swept along with. By the time the curtain call offers a reprise of the title number, practically the entire audience gets up and even good ole Dolly herself joins in, it’s clear that what is on offer here is a supremely entertaining musical production and the perfect tonic to your own 9 to 5 or seasonal blues and stresses this Christmas.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)
9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Monday 17 December 2012 to Saturday 5 January 2013.
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Press tickets for this performance of 9 to 5 The Musical were provided courtesy of The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.